Salvador is the third-largest city in Brazil, with its state, Bahia, occupying the longest coastline in the country. It's a city that has long been on my bucket list, so much so that it took an archived Instagram story from several years ago to remind me just how much I desperately wanted to travel there. Of course, at the time, I had no idea that I would get the opportunity to study abroad in Brazil. Then, even as I chose to study in Rio de Janeiro, little did I know that one of our study tours would take me to beautiful and vibrant Salvador.
The city of Salvador has an energy and rhythm that’s uniquely different and far more colorful than most other cities. On the drive from the airport further into the city, this would make sense as our first stop was the historical city center of Pelourinho. This UNESCO World Heritage site with its brightly-hued colonial buildings and gold-laced churches stood as evidence of this city’s 17th- and 18th-century prominence. We would come to learn on our walking tour that Salvador stood as the first capital of Brazil. Beyond the architecture, however, it’s impossible not to realize that Salvador is steeped in rich, Afro-Brazilian culture, evidently serving as the heart of this community throughout the entire country. When touring through the Catedral Basílica de Salvador, we were drawn to the fast-paced drum beats of a group playing outside. We could also see beautiful Bahian women dressed in full-figured traditional dresses, ready to take photos. In the center of Praça da Sé stood a bronze statue of Zumbi dos Palmares, an influential Quilombo chief and symbol of Black resistance in Brazil.
Our next visit was to the Museu Afro-Brasileiro (Afro-Brazilian Museum), a part of the Federal University of Bahia. There, we were immersed in a lesson on orixás while surrounded by 27 large, carved-wood panels of these spirits of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religious practice. One thing that amazed me, as it always does, is the similarity and connectivity amongst the African Diaspora, even after centuries of physical separation from the African continent. After the museum, I sat in the center of Pelourinho, outside a quaint sorveteria, eating on tapioca and caraíba (a refreshing combination of acerola, ginger, and lime) flavoured ice creams. I could hear the buzz from the people - of vendors selling wares, tourists snapping photos, and children skipping through the cobblestone streets. I'm from The Bahamas and it felt so familiar and relaxing to be there, surrounded by the warmth and the blue skies and the beauty.
The next day, we drove nearly two hours away to Projeto TAMAR, a non-profit sea turtle conservation project in Praia do Forte. Nestled in this small tourist-town, Projeto TAMAR was this beautiful marine sanctuary right off the beach, and the best part? Turtles! We took a guided tour of the area and its many tanks, which also housed stingrays, a moray eel, nurse sharks and different species of fish. Projeto TAMAR, which was founded in 1980 started off helping to raise around 5,000 young turtles per year. Now, this brilliant group manages to save, raise and release millions. Why Brazil, though? Well, we came to understand that out of the seven species of sea turtles which exist, five of them use Brazil’s coasts as nesting grounds. The work that the organization is doing is monumental.
Following our morning of marine discovery, it was lunchtime! We stayed in Praia do Forte and dined at a small, homely restaurant. Encouraged to try something local while I had the chance, I opted for the moqueca de peixe. The delicious fish stew based in coconut milk and dendê oil arrived at our table bubbling hot, served with a side of white rice, farofa, and pirão, and I almost teared up at how beautiful it was. It was, by far, one of the best meals I’ve had and it was a wonderful embodiment of Salvador. If it’s one thing I regret about the trip to Salvador, it’s that it wasn’t long enough. It’s left an impression and I’ll definitely be back!